World news in brief: maya dentistry, medieval hand grenades and early Islamic burials

A round up of some of the latest archaeological news from around the globe.

Ancient Maya dentistry

Evidence of the ancient Maya practice of adorning teeth with jewels – believed to be related to the idea that breath was connected to the divine – is found at many sites dating to the Classic period (AD 200-900) in Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize.

However, new analysis of the sealants used to hold these gemstones in place has highlighted the sophistication of the dentists responsible. Local practitioners appear to have developed their own complex recipes for adhesives, choosing ingredients that not only had extremely durable binding properties, but also had antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities, presumably intended to help avoid infection, tooth decay, and other issues that could be caused by the potentially dangerous dental procedure.

The research has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (https://

Medieval hand grenades?

Analysis of ceramic sherds dating to the 11th-12th century, from the site of a Crusader royal palace in the Armenian Garden, Jerusalem, has shed new light on the use of sphero-conical vessels found across the Middle East between the 9th and 15th centuries. Researchers examined four examples from the site and discovered that one of them contained residue that could be consistent with its use as an explosive device, such as an incendiary or illumination grenade. Historical accounts refer to the use of weapons like this against the city by Saladin’s forces during the Crusades. This interpretation is further supported by the thick walls of the vessel, combined with its weight and shape, which are ideal for throwing as a hand grenade, and the context in which it was discovered – among destruction debris above the medieval surface. The results of the research have been published in PLOS ONE (

Image: © 2022 Matheson et al.

Early Islamic burials in the Levant

New analysis of two burials excavated in 2009-2010 at the Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa North in Syria has revealed that they are in fact later finds, dating to the Umayyad Era (7th-8th centuries AD) and may represent a rare example of early Islamic burial. They were not part of a traditional Muslim cemetery, but the position and orientation of the bodies – facing Mecca – as well as evidence that they had been wrapped before burial, are consistent with Muslim funerary rites. The burials belong to a young man (aged 14-15) and woman (aged 15-21), who are believed to have died at the same time. Their cause of death is uncertain, but it is possible that it was related to disease, which would explain their remote burial out in the countryside. Genetic analysis has revealed that they shared some similarities with modern Bedouins and Saudi groups, indicating that they may have had some connections to the Arabian Peninsula. Read the paper in Communications Biology (